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Spain’s Desperate Economy Calls for Desperate Measures

It’s been all over the news for the last few years throughout the world: Economic Crisis! Recession! Rising Unemployment!

Spain hasn’t weathered the storm very well and the 22% unemployment hasn’t dropped one tiny bit. A few weeks ago there was a national dia de vaga where workers and the unemployed took to the streets to protest the governments latest cuts in hopes of salvaging the country’s lackluster economy. All they did was vandalize shops and banks, causing more damage than good.

I personally didn’t see anything wrong with Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero‘s latest move which would make it less expensive for companies to fire employees and the lowering of salaries of funcionarios (government workers). In my experience, and from what others have told me, there are so many vagas (lazy asses) within the corporate world in this country that because of pre-exisiting laws that made it costly for employers to fire non-performers, the businesses just let the useless remain at their posts hoping one day Lazy Worker X would leave or die. Workers are well aware of this ”right” and many have taken advantage of the law and coasted for years knowing that to get the boot they would end up with a fat check and years of government paid unemployment. That has all come to end and personally I see it as a positive thing. I ran into my fair share of idiots and lazy bones while on the job and couldn’t understand how they had been employed for so many years.

As far as the government cutting worker’s pay, well here again I find it just. Salaries are to be cut in proportion to earnings and, for the most part, the decreases are minor especially compared to the number of people that have been left without a job. This lucky (some may consider them to be) group of people that find themselves in brainless government jobs are guaranteed an income for the rest of their lives—economic recession or not.

I have stopped looking at the news or the front page of the diaros because its unnecessary. All I have to do is walk outside or chat with a friend who has been looking for work for the past 12 months with no success to find out just how bad some people are suffering. Just the other day, I was out walking with a friend and as we waited to cross the street at a cross light out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of two feet dangling from a dumpster as the rest of the body wiggled inside the bin. In all my years of living in New York, where you are confronted daily with homelessness and hunger, I had never seen such a sad sight of someone so desperate for food or to salvage something from someone else’s garbage that they leapt face first into a pile of garbage. For me, it was a poignant image representing the current state of desperation here in Barcelona.

My boyfriend was approached on the street the other day by a women, fairly young and well groomed begging for help. It startled him because although her appearance would suggest she had a home and food to eat, the desperation in her face told another story. She might have been hustling him and if so, she was a damn good actress because he said he felt in his heart that she was telling the truth about running out of money.

In Barca, burglaries and acts of violence are on the rise. Why? Because people are desperate. A security guard was severely beaten recently by a group of men that wanted to rob an industrial parts company. Metal can be sold to recycling companies in exchange for cash. The wiring on a section of the AVE train tracks has gone repeatedly missing because thieves have been stealing sections of it to redeem for cash at recycling centers.

The stories go on and on.

I hear them and shake my head, although I have been officially unemployed for eight months. I think to myself, at least my situation has gotten that bad. But in the same breath I ask myself, ‘what am I still doing here?’ I guess I was trying to give Spain, a second chance to figure this out and get back on its feet. But every day I remain I become more and more doubtful that its going to bounce back anytime soon. Its been a hard pill to swallow enduring fruitless interviews and my neverending job search when I see that back home in America, sure, people are having a hard time of it but they are still doing better than here.

I love Barcelona but right now its looking like I might have to take the advice of an unemployment advisor, ”Go back home. You’re American. Its stupid for you to stay.”


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